A few days ago we talked about G*d and gender. Specifically, our class discussed the use of “She” instead of “He” as a way of recovering G*d as a genderless G*d. I have thought about it a lot because, well, in a classroom setting we rarely get the chance to say our full views on the matter.
Let me begin by stating that in Judaism God os conceptualized both as the masculine and the feminine. This is not merely a recent trend in Jewish history but long-established tradition within Rabbinic Judaism. God as conceptualized by the masculine, is the transcendent creator God. The feminine God, or Shekhina is the God immanent within the world. She is present in acts of public prayer (Talmud Sanhedrin 39a), righteous judgment (Talmud Berachot 6a), and personal need (Talmud Shabbat 12b, Megillah 29a). The Shekhina manifests Herself as a form of joy, connected to prophecy and creativity, and associated with the transformative spirit of God. Indeed Jewish historian and anthropologist Raphael Patai argues in his book, The Hebrew Goddess that the Jewish religion indeed has longstanding elements of polytheism, namely the worship of goddesses and a cult of the mother goddess. We have figures such as Asherah, Anat, the Shekhina, or even the personified Sabbath Bride.
However, Judaism is still a religion that is heavily patriarchal. Women and men have very different roles in traditional Jewish culture. Fiddler on the Roof, which is a somewhat stereotypical portrayal of Jewish tradition, nevertheless, reveals how men and women in traditional Jewish societies work complementary to each other, but also often separate and given proscribed roles.
In other words, when we talk about gendering the Sacred, we rarely stop to question whether gendering the Sacred necessitates patriarchy or breaks it down. I would agree patriarchy is at work when we call the Sacred, “He” and I would argue that patriarchy is working in an effective way, not an explicit way. Nevertheless, calling the Sacred a “She” can reinforce patriarchy because it reinforces the very gender binary that patriarchy necessitates.
In this case, calling the Sacred a “She” is proper, if and only if, we take the approach that the Sacred genderfucks. If the Scripture is a long tradition of the people’s experiences with the Sacred, then there is lots of evidence to suggest that the Sacred indeed does precisely that. The Sacred in the Bible is sometimes masculine and sometimes feminine. Sometimes the Sacred is both at once (cf. Gen 1:27, where both male and female are made in the image of the Sacred). Furthermore, sometimes the Sacred is merely an “It” because sometimes the Sacred is not conceptualized as a human being.
I would also argue that we should seek to appropriate gender neutral language when referring to the Sacred as well because we have to understand that there are people within our society who do not fit into a gender binary. Ze is how we conceptualize the Sacred. The congregation prays to Zir. The people of Israel belong to Zers. The Sacred Zirself created the universe.
Lastly, we also forget that the entirety of the Bible is written from the perspective of male Israelites, who were the élite in Israelite society. In other words, while the Bible is our wrestling with the Sacred, it also is the experience of the Sacred from a chosen few. Transcendence as Derrida argues, is entirely masculinist and patriarchal . So, what does it mean to have the Sacred conceptualized as Transcendent?
These are questions that need to be asked and wrestled with. By simply changing the gender of the Sacred, we don’t automatically solve the problem. In fact, we are merely hiding the greater issues. We have to understand that the very system and institutions themselves contain patriarchal sentiments. In other words, the voices of women need to be made visible, as well as others who do not fit into the gender binary, to create rituals, discourse, communities, and institutions that will fight oppression in our religious spaces. Furthermore, traditions need to recover the voices of ethnic and racial minorities, sexual minorities, and those who are part of our societies lower classes. We need to begin approaching how religion can be an inclusive force within society and not an exclusionary force.